VAN ORDEN v. PERRY

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
03-1500
Petitioner 
Thomas Van Orden
Respondent 
Rick Perry, in his Official Capacity as Governor of Texas and Chairman, State Preservation Board, et al.
Advocates
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
(argued the cause for Respondents, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting respondents)
(argued the cause for Respondents)
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Facts of the Case 

Thomas Van Orden sued Texas in federal district court, arguing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol building represented an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Orden argued this violated the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from passing laws "respecting an establishment of religion." The district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Orden and said the monument served a valid secular purpose and would not appear to a reasonable observer to represent a government endorsement of religion.

Question 

Does a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of a state capitol building violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which barred the government from passing laws "respecting an establishment of religion?"

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Perry, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

No. In 5-4 decision, and in a four-justice opinion delivered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court held that the establishment clause did not bar the monument on the grounds of Texas' state capitol building. The plurality deemed the Texas monument part of the nation's tradition of recognizing the Ten Commandments' historical meaning. Though the Commandments are religious, the plurality argued, "simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the establishment clause."

Cite this Page
VAN ORDEN v. PERRY. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 17 April 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_1500>.
VAN ORDEN v. PERRY, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_1500 (last visited April 17, 2014).
"VAN ORDEN v. PERRY," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_1500.